Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Acropolis

June 2nd, 2014

Visiting the ruins at the Acropolis is on the ‘must see’ list for any visit to Athens. In preparation for this trip, we watched several DVD’s about the Parthenon and other buildings atop the Acropolis.

The Parthenon was a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron. It was constructed to replace an existing temple which was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC and cost 469 silver talents (close to 1 billion dollars in modern currency) to build. Its construction began in 447 BC under the orders of Pericles to show the wealth and exuberance of Athenian power. It was completed in 438 BC. and is, perhaps, the most important surviving building of Classical Greece. It is certainly the most recognizable.

Having been forewarned of the crowds, we got an early start, leaving our hotel around 7:30 am, and walking to the Acropolis, arriving as it opened at 8 am. This strategy paid off, as we were able to see most of the sites without too much of a crowd.

On our way up the Acropolis, the first site that greeted us was an overlook for the Odeum (or theatre) of Herodes Atticus. The Odeum was built in 161 AD by Herodes Atticus.  It was originally a steep-sloped amphitheater with a three-story stone front wall and a wooden roof. It was used for music concerts with a capacity of 5,000. It lasted intact until it was destroyed and turned into a ruin in 267 AD.


The audience stands and the stage were restored in the 1950s. Since then it has been used for music and theatre performances. Because it is only open to the public for performances, we were unable to tour the ruins up close but they were maybe even more impressive from this view.

We followed the marble walkway up to the top of the Acropolis.


I had to stop and take a moment to just feel…… these very stones were the stones upon which such feet had trod!

After arriving at the top of the Acropolis, one still had to climb…..up these stairs through the Propylaea, or entry way.


This structure was built by Pericles at the same time as the Parthenon (438 BC). Its function was to instill the proper awe and reverence in worshipers as they came to the Acropolis, as this was the main purpose or use of the Acropolis.


Truly awe inspiring, even in ruin!


Just in front of the Propylaea, sits the temple to Athena Nike. Here, a statue of Athena holding Nike in her hand stood visible from below.


The columns, made of marble, were HUGE! I really, really wanted to just reach out and touch such an ancient piece of history…….but there were ‘guards’ standing all around to remind you “Don’t touch”.


These columns were constructed in segments of discs,  then stacked. An amazing feat of architecture.


This building, the Erechtheion, was built about 420 BC, and was used as an additional temple in which Athena and Poseidon were worshipped.  On the right hand side of this photo is the ‘porch of the maidens’.


There were 6 carved figures of maidens, or Caryatids……..once beautiful in their detail…..


Now being eroded by the effects of pollution. As recently as 50 years ago, one could still see distinct facial features. These statures are faithful copies. Four of the original statues are undergoing laser cleaning and are on display at the New Acropolis museum.

By the way, though this beige and off white marble is what we think of as ‘classical Greek’, the truth is, the Greeks loved color. These statues, and the marble carvings that decorated the Parthenon, were all once painted with bright colors, now bleached by the effects of age and weather.

Behind this area, stood a 30 foot tall bronze statue of Athena Promachos (Athena depicted as the patron of battle) which was visible from the sea. This statue disappeared in ancient times.


And finally, we made our way to the Parthenon.


To appreciate the Parthenon, one has to use a bit of imagination. Picture this in the time of Pericles and Socrates….the Parthenon in all its glory on the day of the Panathaneic Parade. The parade passed through the Agora (marketplace), up the Acropolis, passed through the Propylaea, to arrive at the entrance of the Parthenon. People dressed in their finery, gathered on the surrounding grass (now just bare stone), musicians played, girls danced and horsemen reigned in their restless animals. On open-air altars, priests offered as many as 100 oxen as sacrifice to the Goddess Athena.


Inside the Parthenon, the select few who were chosen to go inside would be greeted by a 40 foot statue of Athena, dressed as a warrior, with a helmet and a shield at her side. In one hand Athena held a spear, in the other was a statuette of Nike. Athena literally held victory in her hand. (This statue was carried off to Constantinople, where it disappeared. A small scale Roman copy of this statue is on display at the National Archeological museum.)


The Parthenon, and the other Acropolis buildings were constructed from the finest Pentelic marble, mined in the mountains 16 miles away. Each column was constructed of ‘drums’ or ‘discs’ which were most likely cut at the quarry and rolled to the Acropolis, then hoisted in place by cranes. It should be noted that the work of building the Acropolis structures was done by free men who received a salary, not slaves.


The columns were in the ‘Doric’ style (We learned the difference between Doric style and Corinthian style) lightly fluted with a simple scroll capital (or top). Interestingly, the columns were designed to tilt inward just a bit to provide a balance due to optical illusion.


The Parthenon once had a tiled roof supported by cross beams. It was highly decorated with marble carvings. All along the interior ‘porch’ of the Parthenon, just above the inner columns, was a magnificent carving or ‘frieze, originally a 525 foot long series of panels that encircled the entire building. This frieze depicted the Panathenic Parade – dancing girls, men on horseback, animals being led to the slaughter. All of these carvings were painted in bright colors with a beautiful blue background.

Today, most of the original marbles are in museums. In the early1800’s, Lord Elgin removed most of the carvings ‘for preservation’ and took them to London, where they remain on display.  There is quite a dispute going on over this. Athens has constructed the new Acropolis Museum with display space for these marbles, and really wants them back. Though, they concede that it will probably not happen. The few originals that Athens does have are on display, and the others are represented with plaster replicas (and VERY pointed signs noting where the missing marbles are).


The end panels depicted the birth of Athena, and Athena’s triumph over Poseidon. These few carvings are what is left at the site.


This stone, with its writing, just fascinated me. I don’t remember what its purpose was, but I loved that you could still see the writing from such an age ago.

Lastly, we overlooked the Theatre of Dionysus, which hosted great productions during Greece's ‘Golden Era’.  Athens was the birthplace of theatre- ‘Greek tragedy, comedies, music, etc..


You could just picture the Athenians going to the theatre, perhaps including the works of Sophocles……

And then, finished with the tour of the Acropolis, we were headed out……..


With one last glance backwards…….


Note- for some of my descriptions, I relied heavily on Rick Steves’ travel guides, so as not to have to trust my memory.

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